Erik Nygard retires at the end of October, ending a 28-year career with the state parks system as a ranger, education specialist, park superintendent and north district superintendent.
Nygard was honored Friday at a retirement event at a community center just outside the gates of Eno River State Park where he began as a seasonal employee and then as a ranger in 1982.
“State parks make life better and Erik made the parks better,” said Lewis Ledford, state parks director.
A Durham native and graduate of Northern Durham High School, Nygard earned a bachelor’s degree in forest management from North Carolina State University in 1982. He earned a spot on Eno River’s roster without telling his mother. An ardent environmentalist, Margaret Nygard was a driving force in the establishment of the state park in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
After jobs as a ranger at Pilot Mountain State Park and east district interpretation and education specialist, Nygard began a two-year tour with the Peace Corps in 1990 as a community forester in Nepal, training local foresters and working with grassroots forest user groups.
He returned to Eno River in 1996 and joined the ranger staff at William B. Umstead State Park in 1998 before being named superintendent of Hanging Rock State Park in 2003. He was promoted to north district superintendent in 2008.
In 2006, he was presented a Safety and Heroism Award from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for reviving a 14-year-old who had collapsed at Hanging Rock. Nygard won admiration from a number of park visitors, one of them writing to parks system administrators, “His performance affirmed our admiration for North Carolina state park rangers.”